Q&A With The Money Diarist Living On Disability

Yesterday, we published the Money Diary of a woman living on disability in St. Paul, MN. In it, she talks about the reality of living with severe trauma and the subsequent difficulty of everyday tasks like going to Target. Being on disability, coupled with the fact that her husband is in school and can only work part-time night shifts, puts a huge financial strain on her family. And yet, the OP doesn’t let these limitations get in the way of providing for her children — whom she signs up for ice skating lessons, takes to the Children’s Museum, and brings along to the chiropractor to “get the popcorn out of their backs.”

Her diary received an outpouring of support in the comments, with many people applauding her bravery for sharing her story, as well as asking for an update about where she is now. Ahead, we talked to the OP what life has been like since she wrote her Money Diary, her money-saving tips, and her hopes for the future.

How has being on disability changed the way you spend money?

“I used to be the only one working, and my husband would stay home with our kids. But then when I went on disability, he had to get a job working nights. It definitely has meant that our food budget has changed a lot. I have never been the kind of person to pay bills late, but it’s been happening a lot now. I think spending money and being impulsive on Amazon are things I really struggle with with my mental illness.

“We don’t go to movies anymore. Part of that’s money, part of that’s my social anxiety. If we do ever go out, we never pay for alcohol, because it’s way overpriced. I guess, in a way, my condition lends to us not going out much anymore, and I think that that helps with saving money a lot.”

You’re very financially resourceful, and mentioned several money-saving deals in your Money Diary. Do you have any tips or advice for families in similar financial situations?

“Yeah, so as a little back story, I did a year of service with Americorps right after my undergrad. They pay their service members at poverty line, and the reason behind that is because it’s a volunteer service position, but it’s also to put you in a place of experiencing what that’s like and what it’s like for the people you’re working with. So I definitely learned a lot about seeking out resources in that way.”

“I don’t know that a lot of states are like Minnesota — at our zoo, if you’re on SNAP or WIC they just let you in for free — you just have to show your folder. And our co-ops do LIME (Limited Income Membership) where we get 10% off every day all the time and our membership payments were $5 a quarter until we paid all of it. Also, Minnesota’s state health insurance just really takes care of you. With my kids, it’s never a question of taking them to the doctor, because I don’t ever have to worry about a copay, and I just wonder if people in other states or other places who don’t have that have to weigh a copay versus taking their sick kid to the doctor.

“One thing that’s really important to me is getting quality outdoor gear for my kids. I find Bogs winter boots for them every year because they’re just the best, and we need them. But instead of buying them at full price, I usually find them on buy-sell-trade Facebook groups, where they’re usually $20 or less. I don’t really buy clothes for myself, but there’s a woman in our neighborhood who does clothing exchanges once in a while at her house, and so that’s a great way to change up my wardrobe without having to spend money.”

Do you think you’ll go back to work at some point?

“I want to eventually do something, but not in the near future. The social anxiety and the trauma that I’m dealing with are just too much right now. My degree was in education and outreach, and before my disability, I was doing education outreach for local government. If I go back to work, I’m probably not going to be able to do that anymore — like the public speaking and the being on the spot. I’m going to have to change tracks. Part of me feels really frustrated, because I probably won’t make as much money if I’m doing something simpler.

“Once my husband graduates from school and starts working full-time, we should be in a really good place financially. We’ve had to take out private student loans to supplement for the next two years, since he has two years left. If I get back to work, it’ll be a different story, but its just not going to happen right now. We have to take out private loans in addition to what the government can provide, and that makes it harder because private loans aren’t as forgiving. They don’t have any forgiveness like the other ones will once he’s teaching in a public school. So that’s just a burden we’ll have to bear in the future.”

What do you want people to know about what it’s like being on disability?

“The thing I would say about disability is it’s extremely stressful. In a way, I feel like I continually have to prove that I have to be on disability. That’s what it feels like: Having to keep proving that I can’t work and I can’t get along with people. The paperwork is so overwhelming, and often my husband has to do it with me or for me. I don’t know — if I had a broken leg it would be easier.

“I’ve really felt a lot of solidarity in the Money Diaries I’ve read. Theres a lot of us who are not ‘doing that well,’ if you will, and there’s a lot of comfort in that.”

Has anything about your financial situation changed since you wrote your Money Diary?

“We’re pulling my daughter from the after-school program, since it was $140 per month. I told her last night, and she was DEVASTATED. I get it. It was time at school with her friends where she got free play, which is pretty much nonexistent in schools today.

“I also told her I want her to eat the free breakfast at school this year, and she cried. The cafeteria is too loud (she has anxiety and sensory troubles like me) and she’s afraid she won’t be able to find her friends. She doesn’t want to be alone. I felt pretty awful after that conversation. And she’s becoming so aware of all of the things her friends do that she doesn’t, like ballet classes and piano lessons.

“Another change we made was starting spend-save-share jars for a monthly allowance for the kids. That’s alleviated some of their asking for things. They get $10 a month right now — $7 to spend, $2 to save, and $1 to share. They recently decided to take their share money to the zoo in coins to watch the coins spin down those things (no idea what they’re called). And our stuffed animal family is growing (eye roll), but I honor letting them buy whatever they want with their spend money.”

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